Twentieth Century: 1925 – 1950

By: Fr. Thomas HopkoRead time: 8 mins2265 Hits

Twentieth Century: 1925 – 1950

Church in Russia

At the death of Patriarch Tikhon, the Church in Russia entered its darkest hour. Metropolitan Sergius Stragorodskii served as “deputy locum tenens” of the patriarchate from 1927 to 1943. This was the time of Stalin’s purges when literally millions of people, including thousands of clergy, were imprisoned, exiled and killed. The Stalin constitution of 1936 officially called for “freedom of religion and freedom of anti-religious propaganda.” Hundreds of churches, monasteries and schools were closed. What little church life remained was limited exclusively to liturgical services. The persecution of the church by the state was fierce and relentless.

Relative Freedom

A period of relative freedom came to the Russian Church during the Second World War. The government needed church support for the war effort. In return for rallying the people to fight for the fatherland, the Russian Church received concessions from the state. Many churches, monasteries and schools were reopened. In 1943, a church council officially elected Sergius as patriarch. Upon his death in 1945, Metropolitan Alexei Simanskii was elected to replace him at a second council solemnly conducted in the presence of a host of foreign church dignitaries.

Russian Emigre Disunity

In 1926, Metropolitan Platon of the American Metropolia met with members of the Russian Synod in Exile to discuss the problems of caring for the Russian Orthodox Christians in diaspora. At this time, many Russian immigrants had come to America and joined the American Metropolia, and due to the circumstances, the feelings of Russian nationalism in the American archdiocese were high. When the Synod in Exile attempted to extend its jurisdiction over the American Metropolia, however, Metropolitan Platon objected. Thus, he and his church were “suspended” by the Synod in Exile, which by now had developed the position of considering itself to be the one true Russian Orthodox Church, the successor of the Church of Patriarch Tikhon. At this same time, Metropolitan Eulogius also met with the bishops of the Synod and likewise was “suspended” by them for refusing to recognize their assumed jurisdiction over all Russian Orthodox outside of Russia.

Moscow Pressure

In the nineteen-thirties, pressure was also applied to the American Metropolia and the Western European Exarchate by Moscow. Archbishop Benjamin Fedchenkoff came to America from the USSR demanding the Metropolia’s allegiance to the Moscow Patriarchate. The fact that a pledge of allegiance to the Soviet state was also demanded showed that the Russian church was not free and that the American Metropolia could in no way enter into normal relations with it. Thus, in 1934, the Russian Church officially declared the Metropolia to be illegal and opened the Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate in America. In the same year, Metropolitan Platon died and Archbishop Theophilus Pashkovsky was elected primate at the fifth council of the American church in Pittsburgh.

American Destiny

In 1937, the sixth council of the American Metropolia in New York affirmed a “moral” relation with the Russian Synod in Exile, but when the Synod once more demanded to govern the American church, the “moral” relationship was broken. This sobor also blessed the establishment of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York City as a graduate school of Orthodox theology, and St. Tikhon’s Seminary as a pastoral school at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania. Both schools opened in 1938.

In 1945, the seventh council of the American Metropolia in Cleveland decided upon close “spiritual” relations with the Moscow Patriarchate, but when, once again, demands were made from Moscow for loyalty to the Soviet government, the “spiritual” relationship was not realized.

In 1950, upon the death of Metropolitan Theophilus, the eighth council of the American Metropolia in New York elected as primate Archbishop Leonty Turkevich, one of the original leaders of the American missionary diocese. (See above.) By this time, the Synod in Exile had set up its center in America, and the Moscow Patriarchate was applying its strongest pressures for the reestablishment of jurisdiction over the Russian-American church which it continued to call “illegal.” Thus, at this eighth council, before his election as metropolitan, Archbishop Leonty made a speech reaffirming the specifically American destiny of the church which had been planted in the new world by the Church of Russia more than a century and a half earlier: “We will follow our line,” the archbishop declared, “the foundation of an administratively self-governing Orthodox Church in America.”

Western Europe

During this same period, the Moscow Patriarchate also demanded a pledge of loyalty to the soviet regime from the Russian Church in Western Europe. Metropolitan Eulogius refused to comply, and appealed to Constantinople. Thus, in 1931, the Russian Church in Western Europe became an exarchate of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Many famous Russian churchmen and theologians were in the exarchate of Metropolitan Eulogius who, in 1925, founded the Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris called by the name of St. Sergius. The theological institute became the center of Orthodox learning in the West where such
men were gathered as Fr. S. Bulgakov (d.l944), Fr. V. Zenkovsky (d.l962), Bishop Kassian Bezobrazov (d.l965), Archmandrite Cyprian Kern (d.l960), Fr. N. Afanasiev (d.l966), Fr. G. Florovsky, who later became dean of St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York and taught at Holy Cross Theological School in Brookline, and Prof. A. Kartashev (d.l960), the last procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Church and the first Minister of Religion of the Provisional Government who served as secretary of the Russian Church Council of 1917-1918.

Mention also must be made of the pastors Fr. A. Elchaninoff (d.l934) and Fr. S. Chetverikoff (d.l947) who, together with many of the professors of St. Sergius, worked closely with the Russian Student Christian Movement, which did a great work among Russian emigres during this period.

American Jurisdictions

The second quarter of this century was a time of increasing Orthodox ecclesiastical jurisdictions in America. The controversy over the Greek Orthodox in America between the Church of Greece and the Ecumenical Patriarchate was finally solved, with the American archdiocese being, according to its by-laws of 1930, a Greek Church for Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians under the jurisdiction of Constantinople.

In 1937, Archbishop Athenagoras Spyrou, the future ecumenical patriarch, came from the old world to head the American archdiocese. In the same year, the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School, which later moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, was opened in Pomfret, Connecticut. Athenagoras served in America until his installation as patriarch of Constantinople in 1949. He was replaced by Archbishop Michael Konstantinides.

In 1933, the Antiochene diocese which had been led by Bishop Aftimios split into two groups. In 1936, Metropolitan Antony Bashir became the leader of the larger group, while Archbishop Samuel David led the smaller group. Both dioceses were in the jurisdiction of the Antiochene patriarchate. Metropolitan Antony was one of the outstanding hierarchs in American church history. He was ordained a priest in 1922 and served as a missionary among Syrian Orthodox Christians for fourteen years until he was made the Metropolitan of the Antiochene Orthodox Archdiocese which since 1925 was officially separated from the Russian mission. He was a pioneer in encouraging the use of English in liturgical worship and was an outspoken supporter of jurisdictional unity among all Orthodox in the new world. He was a founder and leading member of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (see below) and was also a leader in Orthodox ecumenical activity.

A Roumanian diocese was formed in America in 1929 headed by Bishop Polycarp. After 1935, there was no bishop in America for this group. After the war, a great period of disorder reigned, during which time one group of Roumanian Orthodox in America were led by Bishop Valerian Trifa, whose episcopal consecration was judged irregular, and another group was formed under the jurisdiction of Bucharest.

During the same period, a Serbian diocese was formed in America led by Bishop Dionisiye under the jurisdiction of the Belgrade patriarchate, and a Bulgarian diocese was also established led by Metropolitan Andrey in connection with the national Orthodox Church in Bulgaria which was officially established in 1945.

An Albanian Orthodox diocese was founded in Orthodox diocese was founded in America by Bishop Fan Noli, who was consecrated by bishops of the Russian-American Metropolia, while another small group of Albanians was formed under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. During this time, the Albanian Church in the homeland, which was declared au tocephalous in 193 7, underwent grave persecutions.

In 1939, the patriarchate of Constantinople consecrated Bishop Orestes Chornock as head of the American Carpatho-Russian diocese composed of former uniate priests and people. At this same time, Constantinople also established a Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdiction in America led by Bishop Bohdan Shpilka. Another Ukrainian jurisdiction found its place in America also at this time, led by Archbishop Palladios, formerly of the Church in Poland. During this time, the Ukrainian “self-consecrated” church also established jurisdiction in the new world. Its leader in the United States was Metropolitan John Theodorovich. It was being argued by this group, during this period, that its situation had been “regularized” in various ways, but it continued to be denied recognition by the Orthodox churches.

Ecumenical Movement

In 1948, the World Council of Churches was formed in Amsterdam from the Faith and Order and Life and Work movements which had been meeting in the twenties and thirties. By the time of its second assembly in Evanston, Illinois, in 1954, the patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch, the Church of Greece, the Russian American-Metropolia and the Roumanian Episcopate in America had become official members of the WCC. During this period, the leaders of the Russian Exarchate in Western Europe, as well as certain Russians who remained faithful to Moscow, such as Vladimir Lossky (d.l958) and Nicholas Zernov, also played a major role in ecumenical activity.